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Skin color matters. Hair texture matters. History matters. I know I risk angering some readers with these ideas but that has never stopped me before. I hope you will stay with me.
1. My daughter’s best friend in high school was a black girl whose daddy had served in the Carter administration. She had always been a child of the upper middle class whose friends were mostly white kids. She also happened to be smart and beautiful which gave her the experience of unearned positive expectations that come with these traits in some circles. Upon graduation, the morning after the Senior Class all-nighter, her mother sat at my kitchen table, household packed up, ready for the move to join her husband in Detroit for the first time since her daughter started high school. I asked if she had arranged for places to stay on the drive up or were they going to just meander a bit. I felt so naïve when she said, “Oh, Cathy, there is no way a black woman would risk being turned away from lodging on the road. Only with a prior reservation can I be sure to have a place to sleep.” This taught me about the white privilege that shields me from anticipating her challenge. I’m free to meander.
2. When her daughter went on to college, she met young women with drastically different life experiences from hers. Soon, she took on their anger and let my daughter know that her whiteness had become an obstacle to their continued friendship. This turn of events was very painful, if understandable in the context of her newly developed racial awareness. She was no longer color blind. A few months later, she called the house again. When I heard her voice, I asked, “Is this my African Queen?” To her eternal credit, she answered with, “Yes, Mrs. Tompkins, it is. I’m so sorry. Is Erin home?” This is how she taught me that our ‘identity’ is something in flux and worthy of inquiry at differing points in our lives.
3. Recently, the daughter of an old white friend asked me for guidance about how to talk to her young sons about what it means to be a person of color in the context of the police brutality in the news. As an old white lady, I respectfully redirected her to her black husband for this guidance. She angrily responded with, “But you know more about child development.” When this flattery didn’t sway me, she angrily ended the conversation. She taught me to know my place and to stand firm in it.
4. I was raised in Dallas, Texas, surrounded by Whites Only water fountains, swimming pools and restaurants. Jim Crow was a term unknown to me but the trappings of it were unavoidable. In contrast, however, when my mother’s dad died when she was only 9, she and her sisters picked cotton with blacks in central Texas just to help their mother make ends meet. My dad was a rabid racist, but my mother was not. We also had a black housekeeper who served as my psychological mother when my biological mother descended into alcoholism. These experiences shaped my racial awareness. By high school, a peer in Civics class had shouted at me, “Well, you’re just a GD N** lover, aren’t you!?” To whom I proudly answered, “Well, yes, yes it seems, I am.” He taught me that each of us is on a unique path and may not share experiences or encounters that serve to inform our relatedness to people who do not look like us.
I offer these anecdotes simply to stimulate your own reflection. If your experiences have not been as fortunate as mine and you need further reading to move you along this path of full, respectful inclusion, I can recommend
1. This article about white privilege: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack https://nationalseedproject.org/images/documents/Knapsack_plus_Notes-Peggy_McIntosh.pdf
2. This book about interracial adoption: In Their Own Voices
3. This book about institutional racism and implicit bias
4. This movie: Good Hair
Safe travels! Your multi-racial household will thank you.
1. Check out the AZAFAP Event Calendar at https://azafap.gnosishosting.net/Events/Calendar.
2. Our Friday night Happy Hours continue. Some nights find me and a single other participant; others find a conversation among 4 to 6 people. The topics range from silly colloquialisms that add color to self-expression to what hobbies have us in their grip to what life has thrown in our path over the past few days or years. If you ever find yourself awake and wanting a bit of grown-up novelty, consider joining us (check your email for the unchanging link).
3. Though pressures are easing, this pandemic continues for those of us who understand what is at stake. Others seem to struggle to grasp that. While we await vaccines for our kids, you are in my thoughts. Reach out if you need an ear: cathyt@azafap.org.
4. I encourage you to check out what Dr. Bruce Perry has to offer. Find his thoughts at https://www.pcaaz.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/B21-Insightful-Caregiving-Intimacy.pdf and at https://www.neurosequential.com/covid-19-resources.
Thanks for listening. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.